I believe that no one but us will develop Africa. I believe that the private sector has a role to play in the development of our continent. I believe that government is critical but more importantly, private sector should lead in the area of development.
It is that intersection of government, public sector coming together to develop Africa in a manner that is sustainable, in a manner that creates prosperity for business investors; but more importantly creates jobs and economic inclusiveness that will help develop our continent.
Profit making in private sector should be done in a way…like capitalism wearing a human face. You make profit but at the same time you’re paying attention to societal needs. We need to create jobs in Africa and for us to create jobs, the private sector must keep investing in Africa and when we invest in Africa, we attract global friends who also invest in Africa. In the 21st century it’s in our self interest to make sure that the society is also carried along because if you keep making profit and the society is not being carried along, unless you live in what Bill Clinton calls the ‘Bab wire economy’, we need a society where as much as possible everyone is happy. We want to see our young ones gainfully employed, we want to see our women more involved. If you invest in electricity in Africa for instance or in transportation, mass transportation, you’re making profit but you’re helping to alleviate , poverty, you’re helping to catalyse economic development.
Profit making is not bad. What is bad is that you make profit in a manner that is not acceptable by normal human standards, global standards. It is the private sector that creates jobs; government per se don’t have the capacity to create jobs. So if we realise this, we should not frown at private sector making profit and we should encourage the private sector to do well because doing well in the private sector is equals to doing well in the entire society. This is what Africapitalism is all about. Africapitalism preaches to people and private sector leaders in Africa – let us join hands to Africa.
Government must play its own role, by way of regulation, policy formulation and enforcement and then private sector must operate within the law that government set. Both must play its own role. Government should not go to bed.
Ultimately, we need to enter the era of self-regulation, knowing what is right and doing what is right. We need to know that child labour is not acceptable. We need to know that labour exploitation is not good. If your people are not happy, in the 21st century, they will not even give you the kind of productivity that will help you to remain sustainable in business. So, I think that as we all get more aware and informed and know that things are changing in the world we live in and as the market gets more competitive, it will shape our behaviour as participants in the marketplace. And then the global community has a role to play to by holding institutions, practitioners accountable to higher standards. For instance, I’ve seen nations boycott products for child labour. Those acts/behaviours will help to make the world a better place, this is what Africapitalism speaks to.
Personally, as an economist, I like the concept of free market. When a market is free, when a market is perfect, when there is free flow of information, people will make the rational decisions.
In Nigeria for instance, there are push factors that are making the young ones want to take the decisions that they are taking today. Insecurity is an issue and there is a limit to what the private sector on its own can do; the public sector must play its own role. Private sector will complement what the public sector is doing in the area of insecurity for instance by making sure there is more prosperity because if you have more prosperity, if you move people out of poverty, the likelihood of insecurity begins to drop. Beyond that, there are things the state must provide because if they don’t provide those things people will do what they think is rational in the circumstance. But ultimately, I believe this will be reversed, I see hope, I see that soon things will begin to change, access to electricity will improve, insecurity will be fixed.
When we did the Standard Trust Bank-UBA combination in 2005, we went on a job road show, we recruited so many (hundreds) of Nigerians and African back to Nigeria and back to many other African countries we operate in and they were so eager and excited to come back home to contribute. In fact, we had an expatriate department, for Nigerians who were coming back and expatriates who were even coming into Nigeria to work at the time. Once there is improvement in the economic environment, labour is fungible, labour is mobile, labour will find its right place. People will want to go places where there is security, where the condition of living is good, where the standard of living is high. Once we can assure this, I believe things will improve.
I don’t think I’m alone but I know that as a group – both United Bank for Africa and Heirs Holdings, we define success in a broader term. Success to us is not just about making profit; success is about public advocacy. When I ssit with the presidents in Africa, I talk about young ones. When I sit with the presidents, I talk about economic development, I give advice whether incoming president, those that are already there or those who are going out, I give them the same advice – let’s prioritise our young ones, lets create employment for our young ones, let’s understand that the success of our young ones… (interviewer cuts in to ask ‘are they listening?)
Well I think they’re listening.
You spoke about the Kenyan tech entrepreneurs, first year of our intervention we supported 269 young Kenyans and today when they tell their stories we are excited that at least we were there when they needed support.
Personally, the reason I founded the Tony Elumelu Foundation in 2010 is to further this whole philosophy of Africapitalism. I’ve realised that we do well in business, we do good simultaneously, we do what I preach. But also, how about getting a dedicated vehicle that helps to further prioritise and pay attention to our young ones and our women. That is why I try to say let’s create more economic opportunities and access to our young ones so that they can have a voice at the table. The people we give support at The Tony Elumelu Foundation – $5,000 every year, minimum of a 1000 young African men and women, some of them can do better if the operating environment was good. So we say to government, please if you can’t give money to these young ones, improve your tax laws, improve your business registration policies, improve the security situation in your environment. At least let these young ones have these enablement and support to do well, so that what we do on our own and in partnership at times with foreign bodies like UN, US Government, European Union and co and International Red Cross collectively can make more impact on the continent. What I also preach to other African accomplished business leaders, in the 21st century, let’s think more. They all have broken the poverty line, they all are comfortable, they all can train their children and live in decent homes, let us also see how we can impact humanity, touch the lives of other young Africans, so that collectively we begin to create a saner, more prosperous, happier environment; that is what will give us ultimate security, not artificial security in measures. When almost everyone is happy, content, has meaning life will have meaning. Otherwise, people will want to create anarchy for everyone because they cannot live or have three square meals, they don’t sleep well at night so why should you sleep well? So I want to see more people involved in what we do, I don’t think we’re the only ones, but at least we have a stronger voice in saying to people – come together, think less about self, think more about impact, think more about legacy and if you have $1 at least you can use .25 of that to help to touch other lives so that we can collectively we can create a greater society.
Africapitalism is not just another variant of capitalism. Africapitalism is about saying let’s change the way we do things, the way we operate our businesses and make sure that embedded in our business philosophy and practices and motives, is also the human angle and carry society along and not just waiting to make profit and do what people call Corporate Social Responsibility. It should be integrated, embedded, and do both simultaneously.
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